The Brazilian saying, "cada macaco no seu galho [every monkey on its branch]” resonates strongly with my social life in Brazil. While São Paulo is a diverse city, it's clear that certain groups of people belong in specific areas and not others. For example, at my university, I can find plenty of people of color doing custodial work or serving food, but none in the classroom. At a bar, I can find people of color working as security or serving drinks, but close to none partying. It felt like living in a social bubble that didn’t even include me. We are all so much more than our skin and economic status, so there should never be a place in society in which certain groups of people are "out of place".
I realized this disparity most through my university, which ultimately made me question what was happening in the school system and how it had gotten to this point. Especially since education is one of my passions.
And so, the brief history lesson begins...
From 1964-1985, Brazil was a military dictatorship. This allowed middle-class Brazilians to receive quality education up through the post-secondary level. However, Brazil desired to grow economically, which could only be achieved by decreasing the illiteracy rate. This enabled the poor to receive education, but it also led to middle-class and upper-class families moving their children to private schools to maintain their high quality educational standards. Unfortunately, this caused the quality of public schools to plummet.
In Brazil, students have to pass the vestibular to attend the best universities, which are public. Typically, only students who have attended expensive private schools prior to college get admitted to public universities. In 2013, 63% of USP’s (University of São Paulo) freshmen came from private schools. In the top 5 fields, medicine, civil engineering, advertising and marketing, medical sciences, and international relations, it was 93%. USP is the best and most difficult university to gain admittance to in Brazil. For students that don’t pass the vestibular, they can attend either a highly expensive private school, which has areas of study that are competitive with USP, or a less costly private university that provides poor quality education.
In recent years, there has been a higher percentage of people of color, black and pardo, going to college, but not at the best universities or pursuing the top fields. Federal government programs have pushed for inclusion, but it has mostly been adopted by low cost private universities. In 2015, 78.7% of USP's freshmen were white, 2.4% black, 11.3% pardo, 0.2% indigenous and 7.5% asian. Moreover, only 1 black freshman sought a career within the top 5 fields, which was medical sciences.
Looking at the bigger picture, the percentage of Brazilians with a college degree went from 4.4% in 2000 to 7.9% in 2010, with most graduates coming from low cost private universities. While these percentages look very different in the US, either way, it’s clear that education is a form of exclusion that mostly benefits middle and upper-class families.
So what can be done about this? It's obviously not just a problem in Brazil, but also an issue in the US and other places around the world.
My solution is as simple as it gets. Go out in this world and fulfill your God-given purpose. I guarantee it won't align perfectly with society's standards, but it will align perfectly with the hearts of those that need to see people just like you achieving great things.
It's also clear that more needs to be done, but the best way to start is always with yourself. Just think: Do you only swing to and from the branches that are "for you" or are you being led by your purpose? Do you uphold the status quo or are you here to shake things up for the better?
And who knows, maybe where you "don't belong" is exactly where you're supposed to be.
That's a wrap!
Major thank you to Thomas Monteiro, a historian and PHD student at the University of Campinas in Brazil, for providing me with information on this topic. Your expertise is greatly appreciated!
For quite some time, I’ve been hesitant on writing on this topic. Mainly because I felt unqualified and like I had nothing to contribute, but this particular post on Facebook reminded me that this topic does matter.
Sadly, this is my last post regarding my studies and travel experiences in Brazil. Thank you for supporting my endeavors and I cannot wait to share my next project with you all. In the meantime, remember to keep life sweet and never stop feeding your soul. Tchau!